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Hemispheres - Footnote New Zealand Dance & Guangdong Modern Dance Company
19 February 2019, The Regent on Broadway, Palmerston North

Reviewed by Tania Kopytko

Sculptural and engaging, Hemispheres is a co-production across cultures and dance companies which does, as the programme describes, show the power of art and dance to communicate beyond language and cultural differences. The three works are each very different but each contains strong, dynamic ensemble work and breaks out into phrases of soulful, dramatic performance. The first work is by the Guangdong company, the second by Footnote and the third a combined work.

The Spring Tide choreographed by WU Chien-Wei for the Guangdong Modern Dance Company, is performed by their full company of eleven beautiful dancers. This version comprises of excerpts from a larger work, so we do not know what has been left out of the narrative. But the work, as it is, hangs together quite well and had a clear story.  Anyone who has travelled on packed suburban trains with half asleep morning workers and in the evening with exhausted workers, will feel this work. To automated factory worker’s repetitive ensemble actions progressing through to the same repetitive toil of office workers – the workplace, whether China or elsewhere, is not human. But, in beautiful expansive fluid movement and music, nature and the human soul, break through. These solos and group sections were luscious, they flowed like silk and the technique was beautiful. Christy Ma, Chen Baiyu, and Lee Ya-yu stood out within the gifted company. The score  (by Alexander Waite Mitchell) was great – driving, automated, percussive. Costuming also by WU Chien-Wei, lighting by Low Shee Hoe and stage design by WANG Yao Chung, added well to the atmosphere. It was a great opening number and it set the pace.

The second work, Elliptical Fictions, choreographed by Zahra Killeen-Chance, had a completely different mood, drawing you in and slowly unfolding like a piece of Butoh or Tai Chi. It had a remote, almost scientific, clinical-ness and resembled free and combining molecules. The slowly enlarging visual backdrop (visual art by Richard Killeen, lighting design by Marcus McShane) felt like a microscope digging deeper and deeper into the molecular structure. It was precisely performed by the Footnote dancers: Georgia Beechey-Gradwell, Tyler Carney, Joshua Faleatua, Anu Khapung and Adam Naughton. The costumes, also designed by the choreographer, were very much part of the choreography and at the end the lift of the arms and the use of the sleeves was very dramatic.

The third work Mass Solitude, is the piece de resistance of the evening. Choreographic direction is by Sarah Foster-Sproull. The movement is amazingly integrated with the splendid score by Eden Mulholland. Lighting design, by Low Shee Hoe, created the third beautiful, atmospheric, dimension. Once again costuming was beautiful and enhanced the movement, with red pants overlaid with deep red, Asian inspired, flowing tops.

Sculptural, delicate, confrontational, collective, this abstract narrative was engaging and intriguing. Described as a “meditation on connection and isolation” it allowed wide interpretation. With the combined force and splendour of the two companies, Foster-Sproull used these movement artists to paint wonderful sculptural pictures which rolled from one into the next. We saw our world as sometimes times communal and enveloping, at other times controlling, ostracizing and expulsive. Despite its beauty Mass Solitude did not portray a joyous world, but one more of control and struggle.

An extraordinary observing “creature,” created sculpturally by layers of bodies, arms and hands emphasising an all seeing head, was a trademark Foster-Sproull moment. Another strong group moment was the staccato movements of a mass of heads.

Breaking out of communal moments were beautiful solos, duos  and small groups by dancers of both companies. Christy MA was especially captivating to watch, as was Georgia Beechey-Gradwell. The work concluded with a powerful solo by Joshua Faleatua, like a human being both struggling with himself and finding himself, at the same time. This solitary ending was a stark reminder that despite communality we ultimately are alone to face the truth, and the end.

The co-operation between the two companies and the contribution of different creative ideas certainly enabled exploration of the hemispheres of our world. It is a wonderful collaboration and must have provided a wealth of inspiration, experience and learning to all the artists. Congratulations to the whole team in both Footnote New Zealand dance and Guangdong Modern Dance Company as this must have been a massive undertaking administratively, creatively and in artistic determination and faith.

Read Theatreview review (Alys Longley)

Hemispheres by Footnote New Zealand Dance & Guangdong Modern Dance Company

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